Recent Commonplace Entries


“The problem with viewing the future as territory to be plundered is that eventually we all have to live there.” (William Davies, in London Review of Books, February 2)

“If I’m to receive the death sentence, then I implore you beforehand, I entreat you, by all that you hold dear, not to have me shot. Let me drink poison in my cell instead (let me have morphine so that I can fall asleep and never wake up.’ (from Bukharin’s letter to Stalin, quoted in J. Arch Getty’s & Oleg V. Naumov’s The Road to Terror, p 222)

“But my great guilt lies in the fact that I purged so few of them.” (from Yezhov’s final statement on February 3, 1940, quoted in J. Arch Getty’s & Oleg V. Naumov’s The Road to Terror, p 225)

“These embryos [of sand tiger sharks] had fallen victim to the ultimate in sibling rivalry, a form of utero cannibalism known as adelphophagy (from the ancient Greek for ‘brother eating’) – sibling cannibalism.” (from report in Science Section of NYT, January 31)

“One can demand from newcomers to the country that they respect its laws or the social contract that binds all citizens, but not that they love it: Public duties and private feelings, values and traditions do not belong to the same spheres. Only totalitarian societies make it obligatory to love one’s country.” (Tzvetan Todorov, in Fear of the Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations, quoted in his NYT obituary, February 9)

“In the interview in Le Monde, Mr. Todorov said he was skeptical of the concept of good, preferring simple kindness. He cited the Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman, the author of the World War II masterpiece Life and Fate, as someone ‘for whom evil mostly comes from those who want to impose good on others.’” (Tzvetan Todorov, from his NYT obituary, February 9 – compare Victor Suvorov in January)

“Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to Washington who runs the [Munich Security] conference, asked if Mr. Trump would ‘continue a tradition of half a century of being supportive of the project of European integration, or is he going to continue to advocate E.U. member countries to follow the Brexit example? If he did that, it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the U.S. wants? Is that how he wishes to make America great again?’” (from NYT, February 20)

“In the break-up of a marriage, the world inclines to take the side of the partner with most [sic] vitality, rather than the one apparently least [sic] to blame.” (Anthony Powell, in The Acceptance World, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in An English Affair, p 11)

“The history of espionage is the preserve of inquisitive journalists, disgruntled professionals and imaginative fiction writers – categories that confusingly overlap.” (Michael Howard in NYT, February 16, 1986, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in An English Affair, p 216)

“Criticism — and its humble cousin, reviewing — is not a democratic activity. It is, or should be, an elite enterprise, ideally undertaken by individuals who bring something to the party beyond their hasty, instinctive opinions of a book (or any other cultural object). It is work that requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work, among other qualities.” (Richard Schickel, from his NYT obituary, February 21)

“A compassionate man [Lord Selborne], he was horrified when I described to him how the Russians I had interviewed had been recruited into the German forces. They were starved, three to four weeks without food or water, until they were in some cases reduced to cannibalism. They drank urine and licked condensation off walls. After this, they were lined up and a German officer asked, ‘Who wants to join Vlasov’s Army to fight on the German side?’ There was no response.

The next order was. ‘Every tenth man take one step forward’. And those men were shot. It was hardly surprising most of the survivors put on German uniforms. Once they were in the Army they were told by German officers they would be executed by the Allies if they were taken prisoner or if they surrendered.” (from L. H. Manderstam’s From The Red Army To SOE, p 139)

“Even now the Official Secrets Act looms darkly over writers, and much that is of enthralling interest will never be told. For my part I propose to safeguard myself by disclosing nothing more than has already been revealed by Cabinet ministers, admirals, generals and other exalted writers of war books, and in addition no harm can come of referring to such things as direction-finding, which is now an everyday practice with ships and aircraft. Further, no secret is being given away in stating that it is possible to intercept a wireless message, and in some cases to decipher it.” (Walter Gill, in War, Wireless and Wangles, quoted by Nigel West in The SIGINT Secrets, p 113)

“Most people encapsulate themselves, shut up like oysters, sometimes before they have stopped being undergraduates, and go through life barricaded against every idea, every fresh and unconceptualized perception. It is obvious that education will never give satisfactory results until we learn how to teach children and adults to retain their openness.” (Aldous Huxley, in letter to his brother Julian, on June 22, 1955, quoted by Maria Archera Huxley in This Timeless Moment, p 28)

“The archives made open to the public in the wake of perestroika disabuse us of the myth of the Russian intelligentsia as the innocent victims of the Stalinist regime  – the myth first created in the essays on Russia by Isaiah Berlin after his fateful encounter with Anna Akhmatova in Leningrad in 1945.” (Zinovy Zinik, in TLS, February 17)

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